The practice of mining landfills is looking increasingly probable within the next decade, as we continue to deplete the Earth’s once abundant resources, according to Chris Williams, CEO of UK cleantech firm, ISB Global.
ISB Global, a software and solutions provider for the global waste management and recycling sector, predicts an imminent shift in perspective which will see materials discarded into landfills turning into valuable commodities. Williams stated, "For too long, businesses and governments have acted as if the earth’s supply of certain material resources is inexhaustible. We’ve chosen to bury these valuable materials in landfills when we think we’ve finished with them. But the world is about to realise we need those materials sooner than we think."
In the past decade, considerable effort has been put into reducing the quantity of waste sent to landfills. In the UK, the amount of municipal waste going to landfill dropped from 12.9 million tonnes in 2010 to 6.1 million tonnes in 2020. However, in countries experiencing population growth and economic development, alongside lower environmental awareness, landfill sites are expanding rather than shrinking.
Williams explained, "Landfill mining involves sifting through and extracting useful materials from landfills - such as glass, particular metals, plastics, textiles, brick, stone and cement – to be reused, recycled, refined and resold. It puts more ‘existing’ material back into the economy and creates valuable secondary markets while reducing the amount of dormant waste at landfill sites."
One of the key challenges faced by waste management companies considering landfill mining is safety. Even though many landfill sites are built with environmental safeguards in place, other sites lack such measures and contain a range of hazards. This is particularly risky for nearby communities, posing risks such as water contamination, greenhouse gas emission, and soil damage.
In considering the future of landfill mining, Williams said, “We’re going to need to return to our landfills and explore how to recover the valuable materials deposited in them – the challenge is, how to do so safely. Over the next 10-20 years, expect to see an increase in businesses – including those already operating in the waste and recycling management space – set up safe, approved mining operations that become new income streams while also helping to drive a more circular economy.”
"If we are to work with the planet rather than against it, we need to transition to a circular economy. Using recycled or pre-used materials instead of extracting or manufacturing entirely new ‘virgin’ materials is a central tenet of this transition," Williams added.
ISB Global was established in 1999 and has developed software that enables environmental, waste management, and recycling businesses to automatically track, measure, report, and analyse their waste and recyclable materials. The firm, based in the UK, also has offices in the US, Pakistan and South Africa.